M A R C E L L A
This was as peaceful as it would ever get for them. She knew that. But she was content with it.
She wondered if she could ever have a family, if she could ever settle fully without looking over her shoulder all the time. She could feel something coming, something that would rip them apart. Perhaps that was reality’s harshness rubbing off on her.
“Don’t think too hard or your head’s gonna explode,” John joked as he placed his hands on her shoulders. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she muttered nonchalantly, jumping off the stool at their table and into his arms.
They had a table. They had a kitchen. They had an apartment. They had a life together.
It had been a year since she left her father. One year she had been running. Almost half a year she hadn’t been running alone. John had been by her side and they created… something together.
John got a job in a garage. He always loved his cars. And Mari took a job as a bartender. That was after she had shifted from job to job trying to find the right fit. She didn’t like to drink, but the bar felt like home. It actually felt like the club, Impero. And she didn’t know why but it made her feel comfortable.
Fucking messed up.
“Life feels so ordinary,” she commented.
“That’s because you don’t know how to stop. How to take a break from all the running. You’ve been through seventeen jobs since we arrived in California. Before that, I was chasing you and you were running away. And we were being chased by many other people. Now… it’s peaceful and you don’t like it.” John sounded irritated. She knew why. “This was what you wanted, Mari. You wanted freedom to live a normal life.”
“I guess I didn’t know what normal was. And I don’t hate it. It just feels different to what I’m used to. It’s a different kind of exciting. I’m learning knew things about the world every day and even now, it’s overwhelming.”
“I’m sorry. I know this is new.” He dragged her onto the couch and settled her into his lap. “But this isn’t supposed to be temporary. If you don’t want this, we don’t have to stay. We can travel, find a way to get out of the country without your father catching us. What I want is you. I don’t care where we go, what we do. I’ve tried to live a peaceful life before. I’ve lived a life constantly on the move. What do you want?”
“I want you. I just… I’m scared this is it, this is all we get. You work in a garage and I work as a bartender. We don’t have any qualifications. We haven’t graduated from high school even. We can’t have children at the risk of Alessandro finding us and hurting them. I don’t know where we go from here. Is this all you want? Before me, you could still have had everything. You could have found someone else without any drama and you could have a better life. You could still have the job that you loved, that you were amazing at.”
“That’s what this is? You’re feeling guilty? Life isn’t fair, Mari. You’ll always be Marcella De Luca. There’s nothing to change that. We can’t have certain things in life. Love isn’t fair either. I love you. I want whatever we can have together. You’re enough for me.”
She was enough for him? Was enough all they wanted? He was enough for her. But didn’t he want more than that?
“I know you’re scared, Mari. I was terrified about making a life with you. I’d never been in a relationship; I didn’t know what to do. But we did it, together. And we don’t know how much time we’ll get together, but I want to make the most of it.”
The next day, John went to work, Mari lounged around, waiting for her shift to start. She left, returned, slept.
John took her out on a date, a dinner date. They laughed, they kissed, they made love. And then came the next day.
They made the most of what they had together. They planned normal exciting things to do together, like ice-skating and boxing and seeing the sights of the state. They kept out of the criminal underworld, kept their noses clean, which was a challenge for John. They did the generic couple activities, but to them, it was something new, something exciting, a freedom neither of them had ever experienced.
Another year went by. It was a year packed with adventure, a true love story if there ever was one. It wasn’t exactly a fairytale romance, they weren’t exactly perfect, but they were in love. Completely, irrevocably in love. At times, it scared each of them. They had someone to lose. But they decided it was worth it.
They were currently on a dinner date, playing footsie under the table of some new place that was around the corner from their apartment. After they had finished their food, John led Mari on a night stroll, the streetlights paving their way. Her arm hooked around his and she rested her head against his shoulder.
Then, he stopped.
And turned to her.
And reached into his pocket, pulling out a small velvet box.
And she stood there, stunned.
He got down on one knee and popped the lid of the box open, revealing a beautiful ring with little diamonds embedded.
“I know we can’t get married. It would be too risky and for what? A piece of paper? We don’t need to legally be married. But I want to call you my wife. I want those vows to be kept. ’til death do us part.” Mari wasn’t aware of the tears streaming down her face, and when she became aware, she wondered why. She wasn’t too much of an emotional girl. She didn’t do this. But John was proposing to her. It wouldn’t be a legal marriage, but they would see themselves as married. “Be my wife?”
She wasn’t sure why she was taking so long to say it. She knew her answer the moment she realized what he was doing. She knew long before that too.
“Yes,” she breathed out.
His face brightened and the widest grin she’d ever seen on his face appeared. He carefully slipped the ring along her finger, stood up to her height, and kissed her with such power and fervor she wasn’t certain he’d ever let her breathe again. But she didn’t care. It was just him and her, and it didn’t matter if that was all they were going to get. That was enough.
They broke apart and continued to walk back home in utter bliss.
John’s phone rang. He reached into his pocket to answer and Mari casually waited. She could make out the other voice on the line as it spoke. And the words that came… she didn’t know what to feel.
“You know how you had me check on your sister and father every so often. I’m sorry, man. Someone broke in and killed your dad. And they took your sister.”
“What-” John was cut off by the man.
“Let me finish. They left a note. ‘We have your sister, human hound. I fucking trusted you and this is what you get for breaking my trust. She’s at my house, trapped in my basement. Better come here soon with Marcella or ask her how dangerous I am.’ Signed Alessandro De Luca.”
John immediately hung up, detaching from Mari in a complete rage and punching the tree he was standing next to. It didn’t matter that his knuckles were bloodied. He continued to punch the wall again and again, like he’d lost his mind. Crimson blood dripped to the ground.
Mari tugged at his arm, welcoming him into her embrace as he stopped. They hugged. He squeezed her tightly and she knew he needed her. This was also because of her, because of what she had done. She put Sara’s life at risk and killed his father. The blame was on her.
She didn’t know how to fix this. Sara meant everything to John. She was the only person he cared about before Mari. Mari couldn’t be selfish; she couldn’t just think about their lives, even though she wanted to. She didn’t know Sara all too well, but whatever happened next would be John’s decision. If he wanted to turn them both over to Alessandro, she would. ’Til death did them part.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered as he pulled back to see his face. He was fuming, his eyes puffy from the feeling of wanting to explode.
“I’m going to New York. I’m getting Sara back. You’re going to stay here, okay?”
“No, you know that wasn’t what Alessandro wanted. He wants both of us there. I’m going with you and you can’t stop me.”
“I said no!” he growled in her face, forcing her to take a step back. “I can’t lose you.”
“You’ll be dead if you go without me. And I can’t lose you. What we need is a plan. We can’t just go in there and give in. When we do this, we have to have some chance of getting out alive. Once he has me, he’ll kill Sara, torture and kill you and I’ll be forced into a marriage with Dante. He expects you to freak out, go there in a reckless rage and fall into their trap. We need to be smart. We need to give us the best possible chance. We’ll save her, John.”